By Bethany Parker
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend suggested we visit the Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College – he need to take a few pictures for his side gig with the Parkland newspaper, The Prospectus. I hadn’t been to a planetarium since middle school, so I agreed. We paid for $4 student fees (we’re both taking Parkland classes this semester, so we qualify for student rates) and I can tell you that we were not disappointed. We were there for the last night of Supervolcanoes, a roughly 30 minute movie about, well, enormous mega volcanoes. At the end of the show, the woman running the event gave the audience about 15 minutes of stargazing, complete with seasonally appropriate constellations, planets and general trivia.
Not a bad deal for $4.
So the next weekend, I dragged my brood back for an 8pm viewing of Black Holes – narrated by Liam Neeson and how could that possibly be a bad thing? Initially I was concerned that the science would be beyond the understanding of my 7-year-old (and, let’s face it, maybe even myself), but the planetarium staff assured me there would be something for everyone in this film, even the science-phobic Mom, and that the stargazing either before or after the movie would be geared toward the audience as a whole, kids included. And once again, we had a great time. The lobby had enough to keep us busy for about 15 minutes – some very cool photos of outer space, a meteorite that you can actually touch (!) and other display items to read about. Restrooms are adjacent to the lobby and in the event that you would have to leave during the show itself, you can get back in with staff assistance – something that not all planetariums are known for.
The kids were captivated from start to finish, about 50 minutes including the stargazing, even through the most complicated science of the movie that left me completely confused. The environment was welcoming and not at all too “stuffy” or adult for children who need to express aloud their excitement and amazement at the hugeness of space and time. When the show was over, we visited with the gentleman at the helm for a few minutes and he countered my kids’ questioning and excitement with his own clear love of astronomy.
If you go:
• The planetarium retired their old style star projector, Carl, a few years ago. He’s still there, but mostly for show. They now use a digital projection system for most of their shows and stargazing.
• The lobby opens at 6 p.m. for 7 and 8 p.m. shows. Each show lasts about an hour so you will have to wait until a few minutes prior to the show for access to the theater.
• Pricing is great! Kids and students are $4, adults $5. If you want to take in both evening shows, there is a reduced price for that.
• No food or drink in the planetarium theater.
• Because of ongoing construction, it’s a bit of a walk from the parking lot to the front entrance doors. It’s well marked with good signage, and the drop-off drive is still open, and most convenient for bad weather.
• Be sure to check out the sun glass wall, and remember to touch the meteorite!
You can check the planetarium schedule on the Staerkel Planetarium website here:
Currently they are running a show just for kids, Zula Patrol Down to Earth, on Saturdays at 7 p.m.. Their calendar shows this running through the end of April.
Bethany, mom to the three wilds who, despite all of their recent growing up, still manage to leave Legos where she steps on them barefoot, marbles in their pants pockets and various food wrappers on the floor of the car.